Colorado State Students Spend Spring Break as ‘Green Break’ in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Warm weather and beaches may be in store for some students over spring break this year, but for a group of 14 Colorado State University students March 16-21 will spent in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado’s San Luis Valley where they will develop a sustainability and green tourism plan for the park.

The group of CSU students traveling to the national park is part of Colorado State’s Live Green community which was launched in fall 2008. The Live Green community is a group of students, primarily freshmen, in CSU’s residence halls who had a common interest in sustainability and green living. As part of living in the community, students had the option of participating in a service-oriented course – Visit Green Buy Local.

Visit Green Buy Local is a service and outreach course designed by CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources to provide the next generation of environmental stewards with an understanding of the complexity of sustainability issues facing national parks. The course is primarily aimed at the Live Green community.

"Students will look at four aspects of sustainability using the Great Sand Dunes National Park as a laboratory," said Gillian Bowser, associate dean of Warner College of Natural Resources. "Visit Green Buy Local encompasses issues of tourism, green collar economy, natural resource management, socioeconomics, sustainable agriculture and forestry, community and local culture – all issues our students will have hands-on experience examining."

Bowser approached the National Park Service to develop a partnership to train incoming freshman on issues of sustainability through experiential learning.

"We’re very pleased to be able to host students from all over the country here at Great Sand Dunes, and to help expose them to issues that affect the park and our communities," said Art Hutchinson, superintendent of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.  "We expect this to be a great experience for them."

The CSU Live Green students will be joined by seven doctorate and masters students from seven other U.S. universities as they spend the week at the Great Sand Dunes National Park as part of a national program called Park Break funded by the U.S. Geological Survey, George Melendez Wright Society and the National Park Service.

"A team of five scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will be interacting with the students about USGS research efforts in climate change, water resources and geology," said Stan Ponce, USGS Central Region Director, who is based in Denver.  "Our hope is that the students will gain a stronger understanding of the role scientific research plays in preserving and protecting our natural resources and perhaps decide to pursue careers in science."

The group will participate in lectures, discussions and field excursions with managers and scientists from the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado State Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, CSU Extension, Adams State College, and ranchers, farmers and community leaders from San Luis Valley.

"Some of the issues the Great Sand Dunes National Park is facing include plastic recycling in the park and creating education strategies aimed at visitors encouraging them to ‘visit green.’ As students we will be able to help come up with some potential solutions," said Adam Beh, CSU student coordinator of the Live Green Community.

More students were interested in the Live Green community in its inaugural year than the program could handle – all 36 spots were filled immediately. The program has a waiting list.